Facts about Dallas that Dallasites might not even know

How well do you know Dallas? Take a moment to sort through the Big D trivia you may have picked up through the years about star quarterbacks, microchips and notorious nightclub owners. But wait before you answer because this is a trick question. As with any major metropolis, the real question is, “How well do you think you know Dallas?” And the answer is, there’s always more to know. Especially in a city that continues to grow as vibrantly as Dallas does.

Chances are you may be familiar with some of the following facts, figures and anecdotes. But we’re willing to bet that just as the city itself has the capacity to amaze and delight, there are some surprises in store for you.

No. 1 Reunion Tower was almost not named Reunion. While the Reunion development was the pet project of Woodbine’s CEO John Scovell, his advisors wanted to brand the development Esplanade. But Scovell vetoed this recommendation. Why? His love of history had led him to accounts of La Réunion, a largely forgotten 19th-century French settlement in what is now West Dallas founded by followers of the socialist utopian thinker Charles Fourier. La Réunion’s residents were able to keep their experimental community going for only about four years, but thanks to Scovell, Reunion is now a name synonymous with Dallas.

No. 2 Dallas is the only city to have hosted all three major sports championships in a single year. In 2011, our local baseball and basketball teams participated in their sport’s championship series (baseball ended badly, basketball took the crown), and the city hosted the biggest football game in the world, which, sadly, did not include our boys.

No. 3 The Traveling Man isn’t just a robot. Created by sculptor Brad Oldham, this large, affable guitar-slinging figure has welcomed visitors to Deep Ellum since 2009. But the Traveling Man actually began life as a locomotive. According to a modern-day folk tale composed by Oldham and his partner Brandon Oldenburg, “some time before 1900, an old steam train was buried near the intersection of what today is Main Street and Good Latimer. A majestic elm tree grew nearby in a grassy area, providing a shady spot for visitors to gather and shelter for many songbirds. As the roots of the elm tree grew closer to the buried train, magic started to happen. The surrounding dirt, fertilized with all that is Deep Ellum, created a womb. The Traveling Man was conceived late one night when a splash of gin spilled onto the dirt reached the tip of the elm tree root that rested on the train.” The narrative goes on to tie together the three separate installations that feature our gleaming hero. Appropriately enough, the first is located right next to DART’s Deep Ellum stop and is entitled Awakening.

No. 4 At what local institution can you read an original copy of the Declaration of Independence? Not City Hall or the Old Red Museum. Not on the campus of Southern Methodist University, though its Bridwell Library owns original leaves from one of Gutenberg’s Bibles. The main branch of the Dallas Public Library owns one of only 24 still-extant copies (about 200 were originally printed) of this document dated July 4, 1776. It remains on permanent display on the library’s seventh floor.

No. 5 By area, the Dallas Arts District is the largest development of its kind in the nation. The city’s arts district spans 19 city blocks and covers nearly 70 acres.

No. 6 The McKinney Avenue Transit Authority M-Line employs actual historic — and lovingly restored — streetcars. Some of the cars in service are more than a century old. Each car is identified by a number, but if you look closely as they approach, you’ll find that each also has a colorful nickname. Our favorites are “Petunia” and “The Green Dragon.”

No. 7 Dallas is the largest city in the United States governed by an elected council working in cooperation with an appointed city manager. The city moved to a council-manager model in 1931 and has since revised the municipal charter several times to account for the city’s steadily increasing population. The Dallas City Council now consists of 14 seats representing various city districts.

No. 8 Downtown Dallas is connected by an extensive network of underground tunnels. Urban planner Vincent Ponte first proposed the system in the late 1960s. Through the 1970s, the city continued construction on what came to be known as the Dallas Pedestrian Network. The system expanded in the 1980s to include skyways as well. All told, the Dallas Pedestrian Network spans more than 36 city blocks and, at one time, allowed for climate-controlled passage from points as far west as Bank of America Plaza at Lamar and Main to points as far east as the Majestic Theatre.

No. 9 The impressive illuminated displays at the Omni Hotel are the responsibility of a single operator. Pat Anderson is responsible for animating the designs and messages that scroll across the surface of the hotel’s 23 stories. The hotel is covered in more than LED fixtures, which Anderson estimates if laid end to end would run for 4 miles. Amazingly, Anderson is not a trained artist or software designer. He is an accountant who taught himself how to program and manage the Omni’s sophisticated light show largely by watching instructional videos on YouTube.

No. 10 The next time you visit Thanks-Giving Square, pay special attention as you enter at the Court of All Nations. Certainly, note Norman Rockwell’s Golden Rule mosaic, but also look underfoot. In 1996, statements of thanksgiving were sealed in a time capsule and buried underneath the Court, with instructions that it be opened by the Dallas citizens in 2064 and then again in 2164.

When it comes to Dallas, what are your favorite bits of insider information? What obscure city lore do you especially cherish? When you think of what makes Dallas quintessentially Dallas, who, what and — most importantly — where do you think of? Keep the conversation going about what makes our city great by leaving your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.